Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which boggles the mind for a number of reasons. But eschewing any longwinded political asides, it's interesting to think about how, 10 years after the fact, there have only been a handful of narrative features made about this epic, bloody, morally thorny Middle Eastern conflict (and how out of those movies, even fewer that have been widely accepted or commercially successful).
It's with this in mind that we run down the top five most polarizing films that involve the Iraq War.
‘The Hurt Locker’ (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
The eventual winner of the Best Picture Oscar wasn't always so universally adored. It premiered almost two years before it picked up the gold statue, playing dozens of film festivals before it ever got a commercial release. This mainly had to do with the iffy box office prospects of any movie (no matter how good) about the Iraq War. Afterwards it came under fire from Iraq veterans who said that the depiction of bomb disposal units (led by Jeremy Renner, in a star-making turn) were ludicrously divorced from reality. Undeniably the most exciting and emotionally riveting movie yet made about the Iraq War, it works as a small-scale character piece that speaks to the larger problem of the conflict -- like the Renner character, it seemed like a war addicted to (and fueled by) senseless destruction.
‘Redacted’ (Brian De Palma, 2007)
A companion piece to De Palma's Vietnam-set "Casualties of War," "Redacted" was so incendiary that, even after winning the Silver Lion for "Best Direction" at the Venice Film Festival, quietly opened on 15 theaters nationwide (it was also available On Demand). The film was loosely based on the Mahmoudiyah killings where a group of five US soldiers raped a 14-year old girl and brutally murdered her entire family (including her young sister). It's pretty grim stuff, and De Palma fills it with a kind of righteous anger. "Redacted" is the closest thing any of these movies come to being an out and out protest film (as such, it works pretty well). Of course, the movie was accompanied with a firestorm of controversy, with people like Bill O'Reilly charging that De Palma and his producer Mark Cuban were "treasonous" and calling for a boycott of the film.
‘The Devil's Double’ (Lee Tamahouri, 2011)
While the story of "The Devil's Double," which concerns Uday Hussein's body double, has been highly refuted, as a movie it’s unimpeachably cool. Dominic Cooper, in a powerhouse performance plays both Uday (Saddam's son) and the double, Latif Yahia, who is pulled into Uday's inner circle against his will. Set during the first Iraq invasion (the one orchestrated by the elder Bush), it's got a gaudy, chrome-plated aesthetic highly indebted to the work of "Redacted" director Brian De Palma (particularly "Scarface" and in one memorable scene, "Body Double"). The polarizing nature of "The Devil's Double" came into focus with its subject matter, with historical record failing to verify that Latif was Uday's double (or that Uday even used doubles).
‘Green Zone’ (Paul Greengrass, 2010)
Possibly the biggest movie made about the Iraq War (and certainly the costliest both in terms of its initial budget and the huge financial disappointment that followed). Here, director Paul Greengrass reteamed with his “Bourne” star Matt Damon and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, and based this white-knuckle action movie on a nonfiction book ("Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran). Greengrass tried to bring the conversation about the Iraq War and the possibly unjust reasons for getting into it in the first place out of the art houses and into the multiplexes. It turns out that Saturday night audiences weren't interested in polemics, no matter how breathlessly paced and hugely entertaining they might be, and "Green Zone" was ignored the world over, with a total international gross that didn't even make back its production budget.
‘Fair Game’ (Doug Liman, 2011)
After making high-gloss fictional spy movies in the form of "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," director Doug Liman returned to mount a modestly scaled dramatic thriller based around the Valerie Plame case, in which a CIA agent (played here by Naomi Watts) was publicly exposed by vindictive members of the Bush White House. What makes "Fair Game" so powerful (and so polarizing) is that it really brings the old saying "the personal is political" into sharp focus. The film deals with the fallout the scandal had on Plame and her family (including her politician husband, played with blustery defiance by Sean Penn), while also dealing with the parallel issue of the operations that she was running in and around Iraq at the time, and how those missions were compromised due to her exposure.